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When your church hates you: lessons from the early years of Charles Simeon

In the history of biblical preaching Charles Simeon stands as a giant. He is widely considered the father of modern evangelical preaching. He trained countless preachers in his methods and left a legacy that endures to the present day. His contributions to the field of preaching will be discussed in a follow up article. However, Simeon’s ministry began in a surprising way, with the appointment to a church that hated him!

Simeon’s legendary ministry began with his appointment to Trinity Church in Cambridge. He served in this pulpit for 54 years. However, his appointment to the church was anything but smooth. Much of the congregation of Trinity Church strongly opposed the young preacher’s appointment in favor of another minister. Prominent church members refused to attend and would lock their pews. With the pews locked up, those who ventured to hear Simeon had to stand in the aisles. The young minister tried to work around the difficult situation by placing chairs in the aisles. However, church officers would quickly seize the chairs and throw them out into the courtyard.

Simeon endured opposition and difficulty for years. The congregation exercised all their power to make things uncomfortable. They even appointed a separate minister to preach on Sunday afternoons, deliberately limiting Simeon’s time in the pulpit. The young preacher preached to “bare walls” for the first five years. Then, opposition eased slightly, but still remained difficult for another five years.

The life of Charles Simeon is incredibly inspiring. He eventually had a very productive ministry at Trinity Church (after 10 years). The church body warmed to the pastor and finally supported his ministry. His life serves as a stirring example for those who face opposition in ministry.

Here are a few observations from his ministry:

Don’t allow opposition to stop your passion.

Preaching was Simeon’s passion. The opposition he faced did nothing to diminish his efforts of improvement in the pulpit. With the facilities of his own church largely unavailable, Simeon rented rooms to give lectures. He traveled far and wide to meet other preachers and offer instruction. Opposition did not slow Simeon down or keep him from pursuing his passion for the pulpit.  

Don’t allow opposition to lead you into sin.

Simeon was treated terribly in his first 10 years of ministry. However, his focus was not on the wrongs done to him, but on guarding his own heart. In all the trials, Simeon sought to remain pure, persevering and expecting God to work in him through the suffering.

“I wished rather to suffer than to act; because in suffering I could not fail to be right; but in acting I might easily do amiss. Besides, if I suffered with a becoming spirit, my enemies, though unwittingly, must of necessity do me good; whereas if in acting I should have my own spirit unduly exercised, I must of necessity be injured in my own soul, however righteous my cause might be.”[1]

Charles Simeon

Don’t allow opposition to kill your love.

It is not easy to love your enemies. Yet, Scripture calls us to love our enemies and repay kindness even when scorned (Matt 5:39; Rom 12:17; 1 Thess 5:15; 1 Peter 3:19). Simeon understood that grace should be extended to those who oppose us. In a letter to a friend, he writes of some of his most fierce opponents: “May God bless them with an enlightening, sanctifying, and saving grace.”[2]Simeon did not let the harshness of his enemies turn his heart from a desire that they know God’s grace. 

[1]William Carus, ed., Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A.(London: Hatchard & Sons. 1848)

[2]Handley Carr Glyn Moule, Charles Simeon, (London: Methuen & Co., 1892), 38.

Dace Clifton

Dace is a pastor in central Texas. He is married to his wife Jacque and has two children. Dace holds a Ph.D. in preaching and pastoral ministry. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Arlington Baptist University. Dace is a family man who loves adventure, travel, hunting, and anything related to the mountains.